Thursday, January 23, 2020

Bangkok In My Blood

To no surprise, my plans are in flux. I was going to fly into Bangkok International. From there it was the Number 4 bus to the main bus terminal and an easy transfer to the night bus going to Vientiane Laos. When I read about the "incredible temples" to be found all over the country I went a bit numb. Crazy eh? I think I would just be going through the motions if I went to Laos just to go. I will regroup and give it my full attention another time. So, let's go to Bangkok for a week. How much trouble could a guy get into Bangkok?

This was my third trip here. A few years ago I stayed in the Chinatown area and I have to admit, Bangkok had me intimidated. On the second trip, I was close to the river in Rambuttri, near Khao San Road. This time I decided to stay near Khao San again. I don't know why. There are so many great areas of Bangkok, but I guess Khao San was now familiar. I did not get off to a booming start when I got through customs/immigration and logging into the airport WiFi, as you do. I had a room booked and confirmed before I left Mandalay. has never let me down. I received a notice that my hotel was overbooked and my reservation was canceled. When is a reservation not a reservation? Ask Seinfeld.

Booking did tell me they found another hotel near my original hotel for about the same price. It wasn't on either point. Overbook and whoever pays more gets the room seems to be the drill sometimes. Fuck it, there are to many options to get concerned. I jumped on the Number 4 bus and heading into town. I got to Khao San, found the pub and logged in. Angry beer always tastes delicious. I had a few Orbitz loyalty bucks to spend and they were set to expire. Click click click and I saved $30 on a week rental at the At Home Guesthouse. The room was small and a bit hot with only a small fan but it worked out to $7 a night for a week. Beer would equal everything out. Being close to Khao San meant there were buses to all parts of the city within a 10-minute walk. There was also a huge open restaurant/patio at the guest house where I could do my thing. I would be fine.

*Newsflash* Tim Hortons opens its first shop in Bangkok less than a week ago in the very sterile Samyan Mitrtown shopping centre. Google Maps told me Bus 47 would take 45 minutes and stop right beside the mall. I just need to look for the big Coffee cup. That was an easy decision. The next morning I found myself sipping a large coffee with cream and devouring Timbits like popcorn. The only difference between this Timmies and one in Canada was the shop was filled with Thai's who were snapping photos and showing off their Canadian donuts. I saw a donut with Fruit Loops on it. Is this a thing now? In the same area of the mall, there was a Starbucks, Deane and Delucca, Amazon Cafe, Costa Coffee, and a few local independent coffee shops. All of them were near empty whereas the line up for Timmies never ended. Well done International Brands. In case you did not know Timmies is no longer a Canadian Company. It is owned and operated by a Brazilian-American investment conglomerate. F**kum, Timmies will always belong to us.

The entire area around Khao San Road can be a nightmare if you let it get to you. It is everything cliche about a tourist trap located in a compact area. Happy hour street-front bars, massage parlors, street food, cheap souvenir shops, loud music, bright lights, a few back alleys to keep things interesting, Tuk Tuk touts, street hustlers, happy tourists, bored locals, and judgmental long term ex-pats. I like it in short bursts but it would be everything that you would hate about Bangkok if it was the only place you went to.

For a week I happily had a few leg messages. I drank at various bars during happy hour and on one occasion found myself drunkenly buying things from the vendors trolling the bars. I had a fun moment when I shared the experience with an older German couple who bought the same things I did. I finally landed a pair of Havaianas and tossed the $1 pair of nastiness that I had bought in Mirissa, Sri Lanka. I ate copious amounts of street prepared Pad Thai, kabobs and Shawarmas. Down an alleyway, I discovered large BBQ's firing up beef and pork in unusually large quantities. It must have been good because locals were sitting everywhere devouring in gluttonous happiness, so naturally, I joined them and I was not even hungry. I ordered six skewers of mixed meat and they tossed in 5 small cucumbers, dipping sauce and a bunch of raw cabbage. I ate, I made a mess, I enjoyed it and waddled on.

And on the 4th day, I could not do it any longer, I had to get out of town for a day. The last time I was here I remembered seeing a tour at my hotel for a trip to the Bridge Over The River Kwai. Challenge accepted. I found it with ease and booked my trip for the next morning. The pickup was 5:30 AM at my hotel...WTF tour lady? I walked back to my hotels, past all the bars, music, street food and fun and went to bed by 9:00 PM. Big night in Bangkok!

The van pickup was on time. I climbed in, said good morning to the eight or nine people, put my headphones on and went to sleep. It was not the time for a happy chit chat. The tour was simple and had a few quirky things added to it. Our first stop was the War Museum. It was not huge but it did have some interesting artifacts from the War era, including weapons, cars, trains, money, uniforms and pictures, some of them a bit graphic. This also gave me my first view of the bridge and the surrounding area.

Some people on this trip had the option of an elephant ride, I passed. So instead they dropped a few of us off at a small waterfall for an hour. I should have stayed on the bridge. We then went to a small town and boarded a local train for "the experience and views" which were really nice. The thirty-minute ride on a rickety old steam train along the river had everyone excited for the views. The whistle-stop was our lunch break which was included. A huge buffet of various Thai dishes and our seats gave us a beautiful view of the river.

Finally, the reason we came. The stop at the bridge. Sure it was mobbed by tourists that included me. I found myself a bit introspective standing on the bridge knowing a bit of the history. There was a replica camp set up across the river but we did not have time-based on our itinerary, which is one of the reasons I am not a fan of "organized tours". I should have taken the bus and spent the night. All was not lost. We had enough time to take in the history of it all but our next stop would put it all into perspective.

If we needed a reminder of who fought and suffered during World War 2 visit any cemetery dedicated to those died during their struggle. The important take away for me was how young most of these boys were. Kanchanaburi War Cemetery is dedicated to the British, Dutch and Commonwealth soldiers (The Americans were repatriated) who died during the building of the Bridge at the River Kwai. They did not die in battle. They died of cholera, dysentery, torture, beatings, exhaustion, and starvation and some were shot for the smallest infractions. There are 5,085 Commonwealth casualties of the Second World War buried or commemorated in this cemetery. There are also 1,896 Dutch war graves and 1 non-war grave.

What I took note of what how young the boys were. From the graves I visited most were under 25 and many were 19 and 20 years old. That is so insane how our societies let children go to war. There were graves of men in their 30s and 40s but it was the youth who suffered so much that was incredibly disturbing to me. I think of what I was doing at 19 and 20. I wonder if I would have stepped up in such a time. I then think of today's generation who does not know what sex they identify with, get stressed over pronouns, need "safe rooms filled with legos" when feeling threatened, feel bullied when being disagreed with, they have no idea of the reality around them past or present. The coddled, participation trophy needing little bastards absolutely needs to put on a backpack and get out in the world. Sadly, none of these photos "Instagrammable"

I have been to Commonwealth Cemeteries in France, Belgium, and various outposts in Asia. They are so incredibly important as a reminder of who were are and who "really fought and suffered for us". The Greatest Generation will one day fade away as the horrors of World War 1 mostly have. As North Americans, we are taught and inundated about the European Theatre of War. Most of our knowledge is about Pearl Harbor and the Atomic Bombs.

To G.T Shelton: Age 24, G.W Dawson: Age 22 and R. G. Kirkland: Age 20 a thank you is not enough for your suffering and sacrifice.

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